Double Vision and a Trip to the Hospital
Seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve started to have trouble with my eyes. It was probably a gradual process that I just didn’t notice, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I woke up one morning and suddenly couldn’t see very well. The problem was mainly in my left eye, where I was experiencing double vision or ghost images. It was pretty bad and I went to an eye clinic for a series of tests. They couldn’t really offer an explanation and I was passed on to a specialist at a hospital in Cebu. I walked to the hospital from the hotel, and that was a long and hot walk. The sun has come out and the temperature has skyrocketed. My legs got very tired as well. I just feel old. Not great for a guy who is supposed to be cycling around a bunch of countries. I can’t even a walk a few city blocks.
Right from the start, the experience was as poor as all my experiences with hospitals and doctors are. The original doctor gave me a referral with the instructions to go to room such and such on the second floor of the new building of the hospital. I found the new building without too much difficulty, but there was no room such and such on the second floor. There was, however, a very large eye clinic on the main floor. The doctor never said anything about a big eye clinic like that, but I figured that had to be the place. I went in and found myself swept up in the paperwork. The paperwork wasn’t that bad actually, though the systems analyst in me was annoyed that once again I had to write down all the same information on two different forms. The info will just be typed into a computer system, so why am I wasting my time writing it down once let alone twice? And I’m such a slow writer with no clear information to write down anyway. It’s not like I have a local address and local emergency contact and all of that.
Then I found myself sitting and waiting. And waiting and waiting. When my number – C014 – was eventually called, I was instructed to go to Station 1. That was a desk, where I was handed a bill to take to the cashier. In the Philippines, you pay first and see a doctor next. That makes sense, I suppose. I forget exactly what I paid, but I think it was 400 pesos for an evaluation fee. Once I paid, I was instructed to wait again. That waiting period went on for a very long and stressful period of time – about two hours, I think. And in that time, the eye clinic filled up to bursting. There wasn’t enough room, and there was no way to gauge your progress. I couldn’t see that they were serving C-001 and then C-002. In fact, I never say any C numbers at all. Instead, I witnessed dozens of people with numbers starting with A and B and D being served. I felt that familiar stress and panic as I imagined that I had been completely forgotten. I hated it all.
Eventually, my name was called and I was directed to Station 2. There, an unsmiling young woman took me in hand and brought me to a room for an eye test. There was nothing personal about this. She was not interested in my story. She just ran through a standard series of tests. When it was all done and she was giving the results to the other people at the desk, I mentioned that I had prescription glasses. I asked if that mattered, and apparently it did because she brought me back to the testing room and ran all the tests a second time. The weird thing was that 90% of the test was about distance vision. This was true no matter how many times I stressed that my problem was much more pronounced when I try to read or look at things up close. I mentioned over and over again that I was experiencing double vision in my left eye alone, and that was the only problem I had. She couldn’t have been less interested in that information or anything else I had to say. To be honest, I felt a bit annoyed that I was even going through all these tests. I had already done these tests with the original doctor. Couldn’t he have sent over the results? I appreciate the professionalism of them doing their own tests, but I could already sense that my individuality and my path from the other doctor to this one meant nothing at all. I was being depersonalized and divided into pieces – one piece for each doctor with none of them dealing with me as a whole person. Any mention of some other health issue will only result in a referal to another doctor. There is no concept of your overall health being treated. It surprised me a great deal that no one ever asked if I wore glasses throughout this entire process. I had to bring it up. They even took away my glasses and ran them through some kind of machine that measured them. Yet, this information never came up in my consultations with anyone later.
I sat in the waiting room for a very long time, and then it was my time to see the doctor. I was directed to Room C, so the numbering system finally made sense. Before then, I had no idea what the A, B, C, and D meant.
This doctor did not impress me right off the bat. He seemed like an intelligent guy. His English was excellent, and he was nice. However, when I was directed into his office, he then took out the long note written by the first doctor and started to read it. He had clearly not seen it before then. I knew from looking at it before that the first doctor’s handwriting was very bad. I could barely make out anything. This doctor said he was good at making out bad handwriting, but he clearly had trouble understanding it.
I tried to tell this doctor my story, and to his credit, he listened to me. However, I was under the impression that he wasn’t really paying attention. He was just letting me talk to be polite. His examination was very quick and not very fruitful. He said that my left eye looked perfectly normal. He could see nothing that could be causing a problem. He brought the conversation around to a magic machine that could do a special test – at test that the first doctor wasn’t able to do. This test was the reason I had been referred to this hospital in the first place. I had felt from the very beginning that this test would show nothing, but I was willing to give it a shot. At least I was willing until I learned that it cost 2,000 pesos. That was unexpected. It was also unpleasant because I was 99% sure it would show nothing. I talked to the doctor for a long time trying to figure out whether I should spend the money on this test or not. In the end, I didn’t really have a choice. In the normal diagnostic process, this test was the next step. If I didn’t take the test, there was no other direction to take.
I said yes to the test and then I was back out in the waiting room and doing what one does when your health is an issue – waiting. I might have gone nuts except that they did have a big TV at the front and they were showing big budget movies with English subtitles. I sat through X-Men 2 and The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Sulfer in their entirety while waiting. Even those movies couldn’t fill up all of the time, and I had to rely on my podcasts to occupy me. But that didn’t really work, because I also had to listen for my magic number of C-0014 to be called.
The test was anti-climactic. It felt exactly like all the other tests. I rested my chin on a little platform and placed my forehead against a rest while staring into a little lens. I was told to focus on the little cross in the middle. I did so, and the machine shot some light into my eye and took some pictures. Two minutes (at 1,000 pesos a minute) and I was done. Back to waiting.
The meeting with the doctor (after more waiting) was even more of an anti-climax. He just glanced at the pretty pictures on his computer screen and said that the test had revealed nothing. No big surprise there.
So I was right where I had started, with double vision in my left eye. I found that I now understood less than I had understood at the beginning. You’d think I’d understand more, but the more I talked with the doctor, the murkier things got. I thought I was asking simple questions, but I did not get simple answers.
At the end of all this, we got to the point of what should happen next. This doctor gave it as his opinion that I had probably experienced a stroke in my brain and that this was pressing on my optic nerves in some fashion. That was certainly unexpected. The stroke theory certainly did tie in with my newly discovered high blood pressure. That was all well and good, but this was just a random theory – and what does one do with a theory? One has to test it. And this means more doctors and more tests. He wanted to refer me to a whole universe of new doctors – one to look into my blood pressure, one to run a CAT scan and look for evidence of a stroke, and another to run some more visual tests. This was not unexpected. I have no idea what the final tally on all this would be, but the CAT scan alone he said would cost in the range of 8 or 10 thousand pesos. Who knows how many other fees would be tacked onto that. I was not thrilled with all of this information, particularly because I still felt that all these doctors were taking the lazy route. They weren’t focusing on me as an individual. They weren’t asking me any probing questions. All they wanted to do was run tests and play with all of their toys and run me through their system – and the result would be a gauntlet of fees. I had actually expressed some concerns to this doctor at the very beginning when he suggested the 2,000-peso test. I had said that I was leery of going down that road because my experience was that people once they got into the clutches of the medical system just got subjected to more and more tests and got lost with no progress made. He hinted gently that some people experience some progress.
Our consultation ended in more confusion because I was pressing him on whether this problem was simply a natural decline due to aging or some other factor. I tried to learn from him whether it was common for people to have drastically different powers of vision in two eyes. I also tried to ask him how quickly one’s vision could deteriorate in natural circumstances. I told him that the eyeglasses they had tested were prescribed a year and a half ago, and so he could compare that prescription with what their readings were now. And was that decline natural? He never answered that question. He clearly felt my allotted time was over and I should get out so he could see more patients. The usual thing with doctors. I kept pressing, however, and I asked quite clearly whether all this stroke talk was too extreme and I should just get new glasses. This idea actually surprised him. He said that he assumed the previous doctor had checked to see if new glasses were required and had decided it wasn’t an option. I’m not sure how he got to that assumption, because it was never stated. So he sent me back out to get an eye test. (More fees.) This blew my mind because I had been there for six hours by this point and had been examined already. Had that not been an eye test? If they weren’t examining my eyes and vision, what were they doing all this time? Anyway, after six hours, they got me into a room to test my eyesight. But, of course, it wasn’t the doctor doing the test. It was one of the unsmiling women, and she just did the usual test that she would do with anyone. My individual story meant nothing to her. She just popped the lenses into the slots and asked me to read off rows of numbers and letters. I never did find out from her what the results of this test were. I asked, but she didn’t say anything. And by this point, I had no idea if it was possible to see the original doctor again. I assumed not since I was being presented with another bill and being run through some paperwork that was sending me out the door. It was a frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive experience.
I did leave the eye clinic with information about the next step. The doctor had written out a referral to another doctor to get the CAT scan. I had to ask a bunch of questions about who this doctor was and how I go about seeing her and where she was. It turned out that she was in an entirely different building and I had to take a shuttle bus to get there and her clinic hours were only from 9-12 anyway. So I’d have to return some other time.
Just to look into it, I took the shuttle bus to this building and went up to the second floor to scope the place out. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the clinic consisted of a tiny, cluttered room jammed from wall to wall with people. The last thing I want to do is spend another six hours in a place like that in order to spend 10,000 pesos on a test that will show nothing. It would be different if I felt that the test was necessary and that some information would carry over from the first and second doctor. It’s a weird feeling to be a patient. I felt I’d left a large part of myself at the office of the first doctor. I had to start all over again at the second doctor’s office. But this second doctor, being a specialist, was only interested in a very narrow slice of me. Still, I had invested six hours plus in that place. Yet nothing of that experience would carry over to this new CAT scan doctor.
I hate doctors.